My good friend growing up never missed a church service. Many people looked up to her spiritual maturity. To me, she was the definition of godly. Fast forward 10 years—she has walked away from God and has expressed no desire to return. To this day though, there are ribbons, medals and awards still hanging on her wall for Bible memorization.
When did the disconnect happen?
Today, church attendance in America is declining. Many “Christians” are walking away from their faith once getting to college or entering the workplace. Ministries and churches are fighting to stay relevant with millennials. Our nation is seeing a generation walk away from God as if He were merely a fashion trend that’s no longer in style.
So what do some Bible memory verses and a church attendance decline have to do with one another? We have perhaps trained up a generation to know Jesus as a correct answer, instead of an actual person.
In his Bible Study Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby calls it a “crisis of belief.” A Google search will bring up many people who call it “losing their religion.” Whatever you want to call it, it’s happening to an alarmingly large number of young Americans. As they become adults and join today’s competitive world, they’re expected to explain why they choose one answer over the other. Being able to critically think about a matter separates those who get accepted to good schools and high-paying jobs from the rest. So in this same atmosphere, when questions or doubts arise about their spirituality, young adults soon fear they’re not Christians anymore because they can’t always explain to others—and most importantly themselves—why they should be.
While memorizing the Bible is a great thing to do, if we’re not teaching young believers to truly have a relationship with its author, it can become a lost cause. If public schools can fight against using rote memorization in order to help students become better critical thinkers, why should the Church not be leading the way in doing the same thing?
So how do we change it? The simple answer is that Jesus has to move from being an answer in our heads to a truth in our hearts. Head knowledge is easily replaceable. But truth that has made it into someone’s heart is rarely moveable.
How do we get the truth about Jesus from someone’s head to their heart? We don’t. Only God does that. But there are some ways you and I can help:
1. Ask More Questions Than You Give Answers.
One of Jesus’ favorite ways to teach was by asking questions. In Luke 9, Jesus asks His disciples, “Who do people say I am?” He could have easily said, “Hey guys, guess what? I’m the Son of God! Crazy huh?” But He knew if He told them this, it would probably just go into the category of head knowledge. So Jesus, in His desire for relationship, decided it was better that His disciples come to this conclusion on their own. This way, it would be a truth that went down into their hearts.
In a similar way, as we disciple young believers, let’s think twice before giving them answers to all their questions. Doing this can rob them of the experience of letting God reveal Himself to them. Let’s give them the tools to seek out and find God, like in every other life endeavor, they will value highest what they seek out hardest.
2. Stop Scheduling People Out of a Prayer Life.
In today’s fast-paced culture, we schedule ourselves and other people into ridiculous numbers of commitments. This way of life has now even invaded the Church. In many congregations, there is a small group, prayer meeting, conference, retreat and worship night on an almost weekly basis.
Where did the idea “less is more” go? Sure, these events are important resources to help people encounter God, and we shouldn’t just toss them out the window. However, if we really want to see young people grow up to be faithful followers of Jesus, give them a Bible, teach them to pray, and send them out to do it! The convictions they’ll come out of that time with can last them a lifetime.
3. Encourage Those Who Are Doubting.
For anyone reading who thinks “It’s too late for me! I am so far along with so many doubts! I don’t even know if I’m a Christian anymore!” You should know you are not alone in that feeling, and it doesn’t mean you aren’t a Christian. The best lie Satan tells today’s generation is that if you question God, you must not really belong to Him.
A great example? John the Baptist’s last documented words to Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or should I look for someone else?” John went out with some hardcore doubts. It seemed as if his whole life’s passion for Jesus was depleted in one single moment. But Jesus’ response to John wasn’t one of condemnation. Jesus tells John’s disciples to go back and “Tell him what you have heard and seen—the blind see, the lame walk … and the dead are raised to life.”
Jesus doesn’t comfort John with theology. Jesus comforts John by reminding him of his experience. Similarly, if we have a friend dealing with doubt, often the worst thing we can do is try to comfort them with good theology. Theology only reaches the head, but experience goes down to the heart. So encourage those who struggle with doubt there is no rush to be able to explain God, just encourage them to go experience God.